By, Umar Lee
04 19 2008
Over the last several weeks I have had to go to Philly a number of times. As I have written a number of times before, Philly is a city that I love and have a lot of personal history with.
Last week while in Philly I had a chance to visit the MAS Youth Center. This is an excellent addition to the already vibrant Muslim community of the area. The center will go a long way to address some of the problems our youth are facing. It deserves the support from those of us who are interested in preserving Islam for the future generations in this country.
Muslims have a strong presence in Philly. As I’ve mentioned before, the “Muslim look” is both common and well-known here. No one mistakes the brother with a big beard and his pants above his ankles for a vagrant or a brother with ill-fitting clothing. People know what they are looking at. This is refreshing given the fact that we have many Muslims who themselves shy away from a “Muslim look” (albeit there is no agreement on what this look is). The clothing and beard are symbolic of the fact that Muslims are comfortable in their skin in Philly whether they be on the bus, working on the assembly line, or grabbing a bite at Halal Bilals.
With the advancements of Muslims in Philly there have been setbacks. Philly is a tough city with a tough culture. It is not a city of metrosexuals and girlish men (outside of a few pockets of yuppies mostly not from Philly); but rather it is a city of hard-working men who are often in your face. It is the city of Joe Frazier, Bernard Hopkins, and many other prizefighters in history, and home to sports fans who regularly boo their own teams. The city is diverse, vibrant, and home to some of the best architecture, parks and cultural institutions in America. But at the same time, it is home to some of the most depressed ghettos and mean streets in the world.
The enormous African-American Muslim population of the city is now in it’s third-generation. Its roots are in the mean streets of Philly, even while a large percentage of that community is no longer in poverty or in the ghettos. As the community has its roots in those areas mostly of North and West Philly. The problems that affect those communities affect the Muslim community. There is high crime in these areas thus we have a lot of Muslim criminals. The family has been destroyed and out of wedlock birth the norm thus we have Muslims marrying 20 and 30 times. Violence is a common language on the streets, thus disagreements between Muslims often are resolved in a language that all parties in Philly understand. This is the community as it as, as it exists. It is not the upper-class Muslim community that some writers have recently created out of their imagination while looking down their noses at the masses of Muslims. They lack any real cultural connection to the community, which cannot be purchased in credits from say, Howard University.
Walking the streets of Philly, even Germantown, where I am supposed to be hated, I get nothing but love from the Muslims. Muslims in Philly are quick with the greeting and don’t look around and see who is listening before they return yours. The good by far outweighs the bad. Yet, having said that, the bad is out there and it should not be ignored.
Philly is a city of Muslim men working hard at jobs they may not like to support their families. It is also a city of Muslim corner boys working packages for other Muslims (just last night a very nice Muslim brother on Old York Road very politely offered me crack). It is a city that produces serious students of knowledge and one that breeds con-men using the deen to make “hijrah” and be lazy overseas then come back with some kind of Muslim street cred and pick up a 2nd, 3rd or 4th wife.
Last night as I drove every corner of this great city all of these thoughts flashed through my mind. Being that I am Umar and odd things have a way of happening to me I could not escape the City of Brotherly Love without an incident.
As I was leaving Masjid Muhammad in Germantown last night to drop of some flyers for the Muslim Town Hall event with Democratic Party officials and free Preacher Moss show at Masjid al-Jamia (4228 Walnut Street at $:30 on Saturday) I got a little confused as to the best way to head back south. As I was on Germantown Ave I decided to stop at the Germantown Masjid after seeing the lights on. For those of you who do not know the Germantown Masjid is a famous Salafi masjid that has played a crucial role in that movement. I have been there a number of times in the past.
I parked the car and walked in the brother’s entrance. The door was unlocked, so I opened the door to the museslla and yelled out “assalaum alaikum” twice but no one answered. Figuring someone must be there since the lights were on and the door open I headed upstairs to see if I could find someone. A few steps up the alarm went off and I was like “oh s***”" what do I do now?”
Quickly I decided to leave before there was an incident of someone coming in who didn’t know me. They may have thought they were doing a good deed by sending me to the grave. Not only was this an issue for my personal safety, or Allah’Alim the safety of any such brother because only Allah knows how things end, but I did it for the blogosphere, conspiracy-minded Muslims and media. God-forbid if something did happen, “Umar Lee at the masjid for directions” would have never satisfied people. The theories would have emerged such as:
- Umar Lee was set up and assassinated by Salafis for revenge for the Rise and Fall Series. The anti-Salafis would have ran with that.
- Umar Lee killed by a heroic brother before he could do damage to the masjid. Some Salafis would have ran with that.
- Umar Lee caught trying to bug the masjid. Conspiracy minded Muslims would have ran with that.
- Or, if things didn’t turn out so well for the other brother, the blood thirsty sword-wielding Umar Lee attacks Salafis with a vengeance.
- And, regardless to how it turned out, it would have been another story for the Muslim- haters to run with and try and make us all look bad.
Alhamdudilah I left without incident just feeling stupid and wondering how people drive in the snow on Germantown Ave and manage the old street car tracks. As I drove towards Center City getting ready to leave town, a Muslim couple walked in front of my car. The brother had a long beard that was lined-up neatly and a white thobe well above his ankles. Far from looking like he hated the world, like a lot of brothers I know, he had a smile on his face. And next to him he was holding the hand of a sister wearing all black in niqaab. I could not see her but could tell she was smiling and she had a slight swagger to go along with the brothers limp. The weather was nice, people were out and about, and that young Muslim couple gave me hope for the future of Muslims in this city as I left.
Insha’Allah I invite everyone to come out to the event on Saturday at Masjid al-Jamia at 4:30 and, if for nothing else, to get a chance to hear a free show by Preacher Moss, and then come with me afterwards to watch Philly’s own Bernard Hopkins as he makes that 0 of Joe Calzaghe go live from Las Vegas on HBO. For those who cannot attend the Threshold Media Group will be airing the event live on WURD 900 on the AM dial.